Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Ten more amateur satellites on the way

Jeff, K3OQ notes that the ARRL's website is reporting on an Indian rocket launch which has taken 10 new amateur satellites into orbit.

See the details here

Anything interesting? If you're into packet telemetry, lots, I'm sure. For the rest of us, with a more 'casual' approach or an interest in just hearing signals from space, then two of the satellites look interesting (descriptions from the ARRL website):

Compass-One was designed and built by students at Aachen University of Applied Sciences in Germany. The satellite features a Morse code telemetry beacon at 437.275 MHz. Compass-1 will also provide a packet radio data downlink, which will include image data, at 437.405 MHz.

Delfi-C3 was designed and built by students at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. It includes an SSB/CW linear transponder. The satellite will be in telemetry-only mode for the first three months of the mission, after which it will be switched to transponder mode. Delfi-C3 downlinks 1200-baud packet telemetry at 145.870 MHz. The linear transponder, when activated, will have an uplink passband from 435.530 to 435.570 MHz and a corresponding downlink passband from 145.880 to 145.920 MHz.

Could be worth saving some of these frequencies to memory and scanning them. Don't forget, even if you only have handheld VHF/UHF equipment, you'll still hear signals from space, particularly on an overhead pass. There isn't a lot between you and the satellite, so signals should be good.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Steve G3ZVW operating as ZD8N from Ascension

Over at Colin, MM0NDX's site, there's news of Steve, G3ZVW's forthcoming operation from Ascension Island as ZD8N. Steve's going to be there from May 2-13.

Steve will be known to many of you as an ex Radcom editor and is a current contributor to Radcom, writing the 'Whatever Next' feature.

He's a good operator, so look forward to some nice QSOs.

New allocation for Japan on 80m

ARRL report that Japanese amateurs now have extended access to the 80m band. This is great news for more opportunties to work JA on 3.5MHz.

See the story at the ARRL site here

Web based SDR and the data modes

David Barber, on the UK Contest reflector, brought my attention to the fact that using the Web-based SDR that I mentioned a couple of days ago you can use your data-modes program to decode the PSK/RTTY etc etc that it hears. It hadn't occurred to me that you could do that, but I tried it this morning and sure enough you can!

If you've not tried out PSK or RTTY or any of the other modes, then this might be an encouragement to do so.

Why not try WinWarbler from AA6YQ which will decode PSK31, PSK63 and RTTY ?

It occurs to me that lots of people listening and not transmitting isn't good for the hobby, so don't forget, once you've played around with the receiver a little, have a look at hooking up the program to your transceiver and make some activity yourself!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

A little tropo on VHF: 26th April

The Saturday morning tune around has just revealed GB3VHF on 144MHz about 3 S-points louder than normal. No great DX around at the moment, though G3JHM was calling CQ in French (no replies that he or I could hear...). I tried a CW CQ on 144.050 with no replies. Worth checking through the day, I expect.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Web-based SDR receiver from the Netherlands

This is very cool! Thanks to Stewart, GW0ETF and Justin, G4TSH for passing this along.

Here's a Web-based Software Defined Radio based in the Netherlands, with a superb web interface. You can choose either 3.5MHz or 7MHz to listen to, over a bandwidth of around 40khz. I'm writing this and listening to YO2MHD calling CQ on 7054.

But, of course, another test that has to be tried is to see if you can hear yourself. G to PA at this time of night is best on 80m, so I had a quick test and sure enough I could hear my CW coming back! There's an 80m Club Championship Data Contest going on this evening which gives plenty of signals on the receiver.

Have a listen here!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

More on WSPR: Truly a whisper

Something that I didn't cover in the posting about WSPR the other day was the power of the stations transmitting. Because they were being quoted in dBm, I had to do a reality check to see.

The dBm (ie power output) is shown in the text of each station that you receive. Several stations from North America were received the other evening on 10MHz, using output powers of 27 dBm or less. That equates to 500 mW or half a watt.

In other words, a standard 11 watt low-energy light-bulb is using 22 times more power than that transmission!

That's impressive! I think I'll be listening with heightened interest now I've worked out what low power these signals are using.

Monday, April 21, 2008

9K2/G4WUH worked this evening

It's no good, I'm going to say it, I like Echolink!

I know it's not Amateur Radio as we know it, but perhaps linking repeaters via telephone lines wasn't amateur radio either. I was always intrigued when I lived in Canada about how a repeater in Toronto could be linked to a repeater in Vancouver and QSOs made across a continent using hand-held VHF/UHF equipment.

Had a nice surprise this evening, as I was driving up the A34. I heard Ian, G4WUH operating as 9K2/G4WUG from Kuwait. Ian had connected to GB3TD the Swindon 433MHz repeater through Echolink. It was fun to have a quick chat with Ian and hear about his day. Tomorrow he's off to Cairo, so perhaps we'll hear SU/G4WUH on GB3TD tomorrow evening.

As I've said before, if Echolink QSOs intrigue people with working DX in other ways, then as far as I'm concerned, it's a great thing.

CW Skimmer in contests - is it that complicated?

Over at the excellent radio-sport.net site, Jamie, NS3T reports that there's been no official comment on the use of CW Skimmer in contests and whether use of the tool would automatically bump the user into the 'Assisted' category.

Gut reaction: It's hard to imagine that contest organisers would not view it this way. Essentially it acts like a DX Cluster, showing all the stations that are active.

Logic: But wait! The CW Skimmer is just reporting what your rig's hearing - no-one else is entering the data and assisting you. No-one else's station is involved.

Gut reaction: But it's the computer doing all the work? OK - if it's the computer doing the decoding and not you, it must be 'Assisted'.

Logic: Hold on there! Can't fault the thinking, but what else are we having the computer doing in our station? Logging, sending morse - it's doing all those things - assisting the operator. Is CW Skimmer really that different?

Gut feel tells me it is - and that use of CW Skimmers in contests should result in instant 'Assisted' classification. Logic is not so clear cut and you can see why the contest committees are not exactly rushing to make their position clear!

CW Skimmer in contests - yup, it IS that complicated!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

WSPRing on 10MHz

I'd seen various posts on a few blogs over the last few days (the first in Italian) about K1JT's new program, WSPR

It looked interesting, so this evening, I downloaded the program, loaded it on my laptop and hooked up the FT1000 listening on 10MHz. After a bit of fiddling around (remember to ensure your computer clock is telling the right time!) and setting levels, the program sprang into life!

Joe, K1JT describes the WSPR mode as follows "WSPR (pronounced "whisper") stands for "Weak Signal Propagation Reporter." This program implements transmitting and receiving for a digital soundcard mode called "MEPT_JT", an acronym for "Manned Experimental Propagation Tests, by K1JT".

Sure enough, listening for an hour or so through sunset on 10MHz has revealed a number of stations operating on WSPR. The first stations heard were European; PA3ABK, I2KBD, OZ1PIF and F6IRF. The man himself, K1JT, quickly appeared too!

Oh! North America's starting to come through now. VE1VDM has just appeared.

This is interesting. Of course, there's a grid locator shown against each station, so you get a sense of what propagation's doing. So far, it's as you'd expect, EU dropping off a little after sunset and the North Americans coming up. It's never quite that straightforward.

Do give it a go! And of course, I'm just in RX mode. To contribute most fully, do enable the TX to give others a chance to hear you! You'll find the program to download on the link in the first paragraph.

Thanks Joe!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

29MHz FM: Funny what happens when you hit the wrong button!

This afternoon I drove up to the allotment to do a quick bit of planting. As is normal, I switched the FT8900 to have a listen around. Rather than hit the memory scan, I accidentally hit band scan on 29MHz. To my surprise, the receiver stopped on 29.640 and I heard the tail end of an ID, sending IO92NF.

Had a quick fiddle around, setting the repeater shift up and found that I could just about open the repeater. It's GB3CJ, located up at Northampton. Not bad coverage to make it down here onto the ridge at Longworth. I've set it in one of the memories now, so it will be interesting to see how often I hear it, and from where.

The GB3CJ website is here

I had a feeling I could hear a weak signal on 29.600 FM this afternoon, so perhaps things are starting to happen!

VHF Expedition to JO00 this week

I just worked Kevin, G1KAW/P from JO00. He told me that he's making an DXpedition there for the best part of a week. He's using Meteor Scatter on 2m and has already worked into HA and DL, so the gear's working well.

Look for Kevin around the WSJT frequency; 144.370.

He'll also be on 50MHz tropo as conditions allow - and if the weather gets a bit nicer to enable some more antennas to be erected!

Welcome to Amateur Radio: Stuart, M3XHV

Had a nice QSO on the way home last night on the Didcot 70cms repeater, GB3DI (probably the first time in 5 years that I've had a QSO on that box!). I worked Stuart, M3XHV who'd had his licence for just a few days. Didn't sound like it though and I got the impression that Stuart had been listening to the bands for a while.

Welcome to Amateur Radio, Stuart!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Yaesu FT-897/FT-857: Saving power for portable operation

From Richard, G4ERP comes a tip if you've got an FT-897 or FT-857 and use it portable from a battery. Richard says that some of the display schemes are far more thirsty on the battery than others, so if you regularly use one of these rigs from a battery, it may be worth an experiment.

I don't have one of these radios to experiment with, so if you do and find out which display scheme is kindest to the battery, please post a reply here.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Some nice pictures of the YK9G operation

I just found some nice pictures of the recent YK9G operation over at Chris, G3SJJ's site.

Have a look here

YK9G are QRT

The YK9G team went QRT on 16th April at 0350z. Their website reports that they were continously active for 6 days 19 hours making a total of 29,473 QSOs or 28,100 excluding duplicates.

That makes around 4,340 QSOs per day.

Well done chaps! Thanks for some great entertainment.

DXpeditioning in the 21st century

It's fascinating to see new technologies being applied in DXpeditions. I mentioned a few days ago that YK9G had been uploading their logs into Logbook of the World (LOTW). Another innovative approach came out last night when I was chatting with Justin, G4TSH.

Justin mentioned that he'd been chatting to one of the YK9G operators about the 160m openings via Skype. How cool is that! Justin was able to get instant feedback from the guys about what they'd been hearing and so on.

It's easy to take this level of technology and integration for granted though. Some years ago, when we were operating from the Comoros, people got all upset when we didn't manage to upload our logs for a day or two, owing to local internet conditions!

Operating from a desert island is quite different to somewhere where internet bandwidth is readily available. So don't get too used to realtime LOTW uploads and Skype just yet!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Ever wondered what a Coronal Mass Ejection looks like?

As an HF interested amateur, you're probably familiar with what happens when there's a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME). What does one look like? Check out this post on the BBC News site

Let's over look the 'Sun belches' headline! Who says news is dumbed down :-)

JT65A on the HF Bands

I knew the VHF community was putting the WSJT modes, including JT65 to great use for weak signal working. It wasn't until I read this paper on the DX Zone from my old friend Phil, GU0SUP that I realised it was being used on HF.

Have a read here.

The arbitrary nature of amateur radio entities - or What's wrong with Rockall?

Looking over at Colin, MM0NDX's Hamspirit blog, I noticed some interesting comments from 'Island Man' regarding getting amateurs interested in his trip to Rockall.

"I think that the Ham Radio people need to consider carefully why Rockall is such a sought after location to activate, even though it is on Europe’s doorstep. If there are radio hams out there looking for a guaranteed tick they should forget about Rockall, but if they are looking for what could be their ultimate activation challenge anywhere in the world this trip is for them.

A challenge is never a guaranteed tick, this is what makes it a challenge. I would be amazed and disappointed to learn that there is no radio ham in the world who does not possess a sense of adventure and is ready to take on the ultimate of activation challenges – Rockall."

Interesting comments! Of course, the simple truth is that though Rockall would be an intriguing place to visit or indeed operate from, it's not a separate DXCC entity. What makes a DXCC entity is, of course, well-defined by ARRL's DXCC desk. To an outside to amateur radio, the rules may well appear obtuse and hard to fathom. Perhaps they are! Though you'd get a fair amount of interest in any operation from Rockall, it would not be DXCC interest.

IOTA is still more interesting! I have never quite forgiven the IOTA programme for its arbitrary nature (arbitrary to me, at least!). Back in 1989, we went to Porto Santo (CT3) which is some 40km from Madeira. I received a curt reply from the IOTA administrator at that time - that it was the same as Madeira. Really? It's 40km away! Why?

The point of course, is that IOTA is not wrong. They have to set their own rules for the programme. The same is true for DXCC or any other awards programme. It may be hard for outsiders to fathom - but as long as it's consistent to the programme, it probably doesn't matter.

Rockall would probably count for IOTA as long as the operation is 'authorised'. But though interest in IOTA is strong, it's a mere fraction of interest in DXCC.

As such, any operation from Rockall will be interesting, but from a mere awards point of view, is unlikely to set the bands on fire in the same way as an operation from, say, North Korea.

Funny old world! I wish Island Man and his team well. Rockall will prove a fascinating challenge - just getting there and getting on the air. I would be surprised if an amateur did not take up the challenge, but I'd be surprised if it was a 'regular' dxpeditioner. Rockall is a different beast.

Monday, April 14, 2008

UK WRTC Placings

I was just over on radio-sport.net looking at how the battle for WRTC 2010 places in Russia is hotting up. I've listed the top 10 UK placings - can anyone make it to the top 2 to secure a EU1 area place?

Take a look at the spreadsheet here

Congraulations to Lee, G0MTN and Steve, GW4BLE - our top 2 at the moment!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

N1MM Contest Logger now supports RSGB contests

Following some lobbying by a group of users and some hard work by the programming team, the excellent N1MM Contest Logging program now supports most of the RSGB HF contests programme.

N1MM is a great program and supports pretty much all the international and domestic contests that you're likely to want to do.

If you've not tried it, go to the N1MM website and check it out.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Mobile shack for sale!

I don't normally do this sort of thing, but you never know, it might be of interest to some of our UK readers!

We've decided to sell our dear Jeep Grand Cherokee. It really isn't quite green enough for us and being a four litre petrol engine, it's not the most economic. It is in great condition, good working order and makes an ideal mobile shack for portable operation! It's P registered, it's done 74,000 miles and available at a very reasonable price. It's got roof bars, ideal for carrying aerials or masts or mounting mobile aerials on.

If you're interested, drop me an e-mail(remove the dashes from the address and replace the at and dot with the more usual symbols) to -tim- at-g4vxe-dot-com and we'll send you some photos and a few more details.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Global QSL

We've discussed the electronic QSL systems; eQSL and ARRL's Logbook of the World before. Great systems which we're starting to see as more the norm.

YK9G currently doing a great job from Damascus are uploading their logs into Logbook of the World during the expedition.

If you still like to send a 'conventional' QSL to people then there's another option, Global QSL. Here, you can define your QSL card on line in the same way as eQSL. You upload your ADIF file and Global QSL will print your cards and send them out via the bureax.

Prices look fair, around USD 100 for 1000 cards.

This looks an interesting opportunity, it rids the sender of the administrative headache of printing and answering QSLs, but allows real, paper QSLs to be sent to the people that prefer them.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

YK9G are up and running

The YK9G team have hit the bands in a big way. I received an e-mail from Rich, W3ZJ today, saying he'd worked them on 17 and 20m this afternoon (US time). I've just been listening to some big pileups on 30 and 40m. Good signals from them and impeccable operating, as you'd expect from this team.

Hopefully when things go a little quieter I'll be able to get into the log.

See the site at http://www.yk9g.com

Monday, April 07, 2008

Some weak signal tests on 2m and 70cms

Back in 2001, I wrote an article for Radcom about using DSP techniques to monitor VHF beacons. I think on balance, it's my favourite article that I've written for the magazine. The thought that you could take a simple VHF receiver and aerial and make your computer 'hear' things that you can't with your ears - well that's magic isn't it!

Since we moved to Longworth nearly 5 years ago and I've got a nice VHF station here, I hadn't really thought about trying it all out. But after the 'fake' aircraft scatter post last week, it got me thinking and I was intrigued to see what I could do.

Feeling a little under weather this morning, with a heavy cold, I thought I'd give it a go. I downloaded Easygram, which was the program that I used before, and installed it on the PC. I quickly hooked up the audio output of the FT847 to the PC and had a listen with the receiver tuned to GB3VHF.

Sure enough the tracing worked just fine. I had a little play with the Easygram settings and arrived at the following being about the best. If you decide to try it, you may find that your settings may differ depending on the speed of your PC, output from your rig and so on.

Having played with GB3VHF for a while, I decided that a more challenging and distant beacon was called for, so I selected PI7CIS on 144MHz. I can 'easily' hear this beacon in most conditions. Though it's not strong, it peaks out of the noise every minute or two. Sure enough, I quickly saw the tell-tale trace across the screen. Though you'll possibly see noise or traces at various points on the screen, the program is great at showing a line where it detects a signal. If you want to, you can 'zoom in' and narrow down the bandwidth to the area of interest. As long as you haven't got a lot of interference, I tend to leave the bandwidth at 200-300Hz so that you can see what's going on around the frequency. More of that in a moment.

Since the beam was up to PI7CIS, I thought I'd try PI7CIS on 432MHz. Bizarrely, I often hear the 70cms beacon better than the 2m one. So it was this morning, and traces quickly appeared on the screen. You can see part of the trace here.

The lower trace is the beacon 'tropo' signal. Notice too, the upper trace. The one at the left hand side is sloping upward slightly, indicating that the frequency is dropping with respect to time. Like the fire engine's siren dropping, this is an indication that the fire engine (in this case the aircraft!) is moving away from you and you are seeing the doppler shift.

The final trace, for me, is the most interesting one. It's of the HB9HB beacon on 2m. HB9HB is a beacon I hear perhaps 3 or 4 times a year. It doesn't take that much for me to hear it, but it's relatively unusual. It's at a distance of around 1000km - a fair distance for the little 5 el yagi. I popped the receiver on frequency and within seconds started to see the trace. Nothing was perceptible audibly, but there's enough 'visual' copy to make me convinced I'm seeing the beacon. It's probably a mix of tropo and aircraft scatter. Some evidence of a slight 'slant' on some of the traces was seen, showing doppler shift as the plane moves along the path.

Fascinating stuff. If you've not had a go at detecting weak VHF beacons with DSP, do try it out - it won't take a moment to set up! I'm really glad I tried this out again.

Solar powered radio update

It's a while since I mentioned the solar powered station(s) here. No news is good news, though. Though certainly it was a struggle through the mid-winter period, I've managed to keep the FT847/VHF station powered by solar energy throughout the winter.

The batteries didn't get so well charged during that time, so I found that every three weeks or so, the voltage would drop to a level that I'd take the cells offline and charge them up back to a reasonable level, which the solar panel would just about maintain for three to four weeks, before having to recycle again.

Now the days are getting longer and lighter, the effect on battery voltage is very noticeable - the panel is keeping the cells nicely topped up. Despite the same pattern of usage that I had during the winter, the cells haven't needed a 'mains recharge' for some time now.

Not entirely amateur radio related, but the FreeLoaders that Julie and I use to charge our mobile phones have been coming into their own in the last few days. These charge up, either powered from a USB port or more interestingly from the internal solar panels. Saturday was sunny enough here that I managed a completely solar charge for my phone. Yesterday, with the snow was poorer, but managed around 1/3 solar charge of the phone. Check out the FreeLoader here.

Spring Sprints

Nice article about the EU Sprints and some of the personalities involved here.

Picture courtesy of radio-sport.net

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Hungarian Straight Key Contest 2008

I'm not sure this is quite my bag, but maybe of interest to some?

Dear Om,

You are kindly invited to take part in our straight key contest on 80m-band CW segment between 15:00Z and 17:00Z on 13th April, 2008 (every year on Sunday of the 2nd full weekend in April). The rules can be found attached and also you can find it on the following web page as well: http://www.ha8kux.com/hskc-2008.htm

Let's meet each other in the band!
Would you be so kind to propagate this info as widely as you can.


Friday, April 04, 2008

GB3RAL 40MHz beacon

Mike, G0MJW dropped me a note earlier today asking if I could hear the GB3RAL 40MHz beacon on 40.050.

I certainly can!

Can you?

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Seanet Contest 2008

From Steve, 9M6DXX comes news of a revamped SEANET contest for 2008:

This year's SEANET Contest takes place on 7 / 8 June 2008. The rules
have been rewritten and simplified in an attempt to encourage greater
participation. In particular, any computer contest logging program can
now be used to log the SEANET contest.

Please see the new rules at www.seanet.cc (go to "SEANET 2008" then,
at the bottom of the page, "Contest Rules").

We realise that this is short notice, but would be most grateful if
you would publish this information as widely as possible in magazines,
newsletters and on websites, and pass on the details to all of your
friends. In particular, we would welcome participation and entry by
you and your friends in the contest, even if it is only a few QSOs.

The results will be announced and prizes given out at the SEANET
Convention, to be held in Sabah, East Malaysia, in November. Full
details of the convention can also be found on the SEANET website at


Steve Telenius-Lowe, 9M6DXX

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

RSGB's Propagation Studies Committee

The Propagation Studies Committee of the RSGB do some great things, but some of the good work tends to be a little hidden away. I came across their home page today, as I was looking for something else.

There's plenty of good stuff to use from their page- here's the link

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Aircraft Scatter

When I was talking to Justin, G4TSH on the phone the other evening, he was playing me the 50MHz GB3RAL signal and it was interesting to see just how many aircraft reflections there were from the signal. It would come up to a reasonable strength and then fade away again - but allowing plenty of time for identification of the signal to take place.

Certainly if you live anywhere near Heathrow Airport with a very active airspace, there's plenty of opportunities for some interesting contacts. When I lived in Windsor, one of the most memorable contacts I made was with Stewart, GM4AFF on 2m via aircraft scatter, but working GD0EMG on both 4 and 6m was fun too. You had to time your QSOs very precisely and if someone wasn't quite slick enough you could very easily lose the QSO.

Anyway - mention of aircraft scatter is just a front to allow me to post a video of the RAF flypast across London today, celebrating 90 years of the Royal Air Force. Tower Bridge is just down the road from work, so we popped down there at lunchtime to see the event. video


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